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Monday, October 24, 2011

“The aim is to burn through to first thoughts, to the place where energy is unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor, to the place where you are writing what you mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel.”― Natalie Goldberg

In an art class a number of years ago, we were given an assignment with two parts: Take off your left shoe and set it on the table in front of you. Draw it.

Then we were told to draw the same shoe a second time, but this time not to think of it as a shoe. Think of it as some unfamiliar object and ourselves as an ant, crawling over each and every line and shadow.

Once the drawings were all turned in, the instructor put them up on the wall. Without fail, every shoe that had been drawn as a shoe, was a sad imitation, and sometimes had more resemblance to the black ovals on Charlie Brown’s feet than to a real shoe.

The other group, the ones drawn without a label in mind, were many times better. They had shadows and highlights, scuff marks, stitches, crease in the leather, knotted or frayed laces . . .

Empty your mind of clichés and stereotypes. They are good for generalizations, but not for authentic renderings of anything – shoes, people, or ideas.

Next time you are writing, try to write as if you were an ant tracing every line of the scene. Sure, you’ll have to edit it, but you’ll also have a wealth of rich detail you might never have discovered if you had glossed over the details and described a generic scene without individuality. Write the scuff marks and knotted laces.

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